Cow traffic? Traffic jams and traffic lights in a dairy barn? Sounds silly, and of course it is. Nevertheless, traffic in the barn has to be regulated. The term cow traffic refers to the easy and smooth movement of cows through the barn, to find their natural rhythm of resting and ruminating, drinking, eating and milking.
Cow traffic determines the route and routine for the cow. Well-regulated cow traffic provides for peace and quiet in the barn, 24 hours a day.
Cow traffic starts with enough space for the animals to move around in the barn. A free stall barn built in 1980 does not provide enough room for the modern cow: these sheds have approximately 2.20 meters from cubicle-end to cubicle-end, 2.75 meters behind the feed fence and 2.20 meters between the cubicle rows which also contains a concrete water trough. In modern dairy farming, some 40 years after the free stall barn originated, we know that more space is better for the cow. Where the barn is too ‘tight’, the animals are hindered in their daily routine, especially the low ranking animals in the herd.
By giving the cows more space, the dairy farmer will increase his yield. This sounds contradictory; after all, more space for the animals means fewer cows in the barn. This is however certainly not negative. If a cow performs 5% better due to more space in the barn, the dairy farmer will still achieve the same farm production with 5% fewer cows. As a result the dairy farmer makes better use of agricultural phosphorus legislation (in Europe) and his own labor time.
An important aspect of cow traffic is directing the traffic over the correct available roads and walkways. When using a milking robot, the dairy farmer chooses whether the cows themselves determine the route to the milking robot, or whether they are sent through a series of selection gates: so called free cow traffic or controlled cow traffic. This choice does not apply when using a milking parlor.
In each barn the routes are determined with fencing. This is often quite labor intensive. Fences must be unlocked, changed over and locked again. In the free stall barn of 1980 this would work with gates that were simply hinged on a pin and locked with another pin or chain. It worked … but there are better and more convenient ways of doing so.
A modern gate has smooth-running and adjustable pivot points. The gate will always hang straight. With a smart closure, the farmer opens and closes the gate with one action. A telescopic gate always fits due to its flexible length. A support wheel is used for gates longer than 4 meters. This makes for easy and smooth ‘rolling’. Alternatively an angle brace set is used. Everything to ensure that the gate can be operated with little time and effort.
Even if there is not enough room for a pivoting partition fence, there are other solutions. Often there is plenty of space above. A draw gate moves upwards and is operated easily and ‘weightlessly’ by a counter weight. No turning circle so now cows in the way.
Top of the line is the electrical draw gate, the Autolift, which can be operated remotely by an app. The gate is operated without the dairy farmer having to walk towards the gate. By grouping a number of gates in the app, it is even possible to conveniently operate an entire configuration of gates at the touch of a button. This is how cow traffic of the future is organized.
Every dairy farmer strives for efficient business operations. As the herd grows, there is more labor and it is increasingly important to organize things more conveniently. Automation has become more and more common in the recent years: robotic milking, automatic feeding and even automatic feed pushers. The ‘old cow traffic’ could sometimes cause a traffic jam. With the modern interpretations of cow traffic, all lights are green!